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Buffalo a key stop as Arkells venture into America

Buffalo is important to the Arkells, and not just because of its quick distance from the band’s hometown of Hamilton, Ont.

Buffalo is one of the first American cities to give the Canadian rockers a shot.

When the Arkells play Artpark in Lewiston on Saturday, Aug. 19, as Part Three of Edgefest, it will be another in a line of Western New York shows the band has had here since 2010. That includes an opening gig for the Tragically Hip, their own headlining show at Canalside, and their first show — one that almost didn’t happen.

The Arkells’ Buffalo debut happened in 2010 at Town Ballroom. They were scheduled to open for Tokyo Police Club, but got held up at the U.S.-Canadian border. That could have meant missing the show altogether, but promoter Donny Kutzbach insisted on switching the order of the openers to give the Arkells just enough time to make it and play.

“Most promoters probably wouldn’t go out of their way to do that, but Donny was very passionate from day one to give us a shot in Buffalo,” frontman Max Kerman said in a recent telephone interview from Hamilton.

That shot went well; now, the Arkells are climbing a list of Canadian bands with Buffalo appeal. That includes Marianas Trench, Great Big Sea and, certainly at the top, the Hip.

“I know there’s a long history of Canadian bands being embraced by people in Buffalo,” Kerman said, “and we definitely feel the affection for our music.”

The Arkells’ 2016 album, “Morning Report,” was followed this year by a single, “Knocking at the Door,” which topped Canadian alternative charts for three months. The band hit Coachella and other U.S. festivals this year and is playing a series of shows in major American cities.

Kerman spoke about those American opportunities and the band’s penchant for giving back in this interview, which is edited for length and clarity:

Q:  Do you change up your show – set list or otherwise – when you play American cities?

A: No. Buffalo almost feels like a Canadian city on a certain level. I joke that it’s the 11th province of Canada. There’s definitely a kinship with Canadians and Buffalonians. Generally speaking, we stick to our guns. We like to cater, if we can, to a local market.

When we play Long Island, we’ll do a Billy Joel cover — that kind of stuff. I think something we’ve learned is you can only be the best version of yourself, and as soon as you start trying to be somebody else, it’s not as good.

Max Kerman jumps off stage to interact with his fans in Town Ballroom in December 2016. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Q: Does that mean you’re doing Goo Goo Dolls here?

A: (Kerman laughs.) We’ve never attempted Goo Goo Dolls in Buffalo, but maybe we should consider it.

Q: You guys have been celebrated for your willingness to give back to the community and spend time with fans. What are some moments that stick out?

A: Our job as dudes in a band, with the platform we have, is really a privileged spot to be in. I have friends at home who actually are doing God’s work, working as social workers or schoolteachers or outreach workers for food shelters. That is actually really hard work. Anytime we make a gesture toward our community, it’s pretty easy to do.

We had a high school music class come to our show in D.C. They came to our soundcheck and we talked to the students. Stuff like that with young people is very powerful.

We had a big Toronto show in June and there was a woman who reached out because she and her husband are really big fans. Her husband got sick last year and they didn’t think he was going to make it. But he came to our show and he had an amazing time, and she felt it had something to do with lifting his spirits.

He’s still around today, thriving and doing amazing. They came to soundcheck and we got to hang out and talk. It’s a lot of those little moments, those interactions where you meet somebody who is touched by your music and we get an opportunity to get to know them as humans.

Canadian rock band Arkells perform in Town Ballroom. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Q: How do you keep a sense of perspective?

A: As long as you keep on hanging out with people who are better than you, who are doing better work than you – and you recognize that – then you’ll always appreciate your position — especially the position I’m in. I have friends who work all sorts of difficult jobs and have to make really hard decisions all the time that are really exhausted at the end of days.

The subject of one of the songs – “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete)” – is a social-justice lawyer. He’s been doing incredible work in his life. He’s in his 70s now. I just saw him last week. It’s good to be around those people. I think that’s the trick. Just be around people who are being selfless and generous.

As long as you keep on remembering that you have a really lucky job, and your job is mostly to bring a smile to people’s face, and that in itself is a gift, then you’ll be OK.

Q: When you first said, “Hanging out with people who are better than you,” I thought you meant spending time with more accomplished musicians.

A: No not at all. Musicians are kind of boring to me at this point. (He laughs.) No, no. I mean, musicians inspire me in a different way, when it comes to the creative side. But when it comes to basic human-level stuff, I look to people outside of the music world. I think a lot of musicians would say that too.

Sabres' Ryan O'Reilly shows off his pipes with the Arkells

Q: When you’re writing it, do you think about how your music will impact people?

A: I don’t really think about it when we’re writing it, but when you see the words being used in people’s lives, and that people connect with them, that’s really powerful.

The song “Knocking at the Door” was inspired by the Women’s Marches on Jan. 21. Even though it’s used as a sports anthem, which is really cool, the genesis of the song comes from the social justice movement and getting out there in the streets to let your voice be heard.

We just posted on our Instagram (about a woman who) was at the Trans March in Toronto, and her sign said, “Can’t walk on water but I’m walking through an intersection.” I’m like, that is the coolest sign I’ve ever seen. She’s at the Trans March showing her truest self, celebrating who she is, and she’s using one of our lyrics.

Email: toshei@buffnews.com

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